By REBECCA RAKOCZY, Special To The Bulletin | Published October 29, 2009
It was billed as a town hall-style meeting on “The Future of Catholic Healthcare in America.” But instead of raucous debate, the more than 70 attendees who came to Holy Spirit Preparatory School the evening of Sept. 17 became the rapt audience for Dr. Nicolas Chronos, a medical doctor and president of Saint Joseph’s Translational Research Institute. The institute is in collaboration with Georgia Tech and Saint Joseph’s Healthcare System. Chronos directs and oversees pioneering clinical research in regenerative medicine—the ability to grow tissue, blood vessels and muscle.
“Regenerative medicine is the future of medicine,” he said.
The interventional cardiologist is a world-renowned expert in angiogenesis—the natural growth of new capillary blood vessels in the body.
During his lecture, he honed in on heart disease in women.
“I bet you think that cancer will kill more women—well, guess what? It’s heart disease—502,000 women a year will die of heart disease. Sixty-three percent of those women who have heart attacks had no prior warning.”
He urged the women in the audience not to ignore signs of prolonged fatigue, one of the warning signals for women of the onset of a heart attack.
Part of his research involves developing a patch that will regrow a heart muscle; other research includes building blood vessels in diabetic patients that have been destroyed by dialysis. Ongoing clinical trials also include studies of adult stem cells and their ability to be “programmed” to grow specific things, like blood vessels or tissue—even work as a “pacemaker” for the heart. Pointing to a slide of a newt, which has the ability to “regenerate” its limbs when cut off, he told the audience, “Somewhere in your genetic code we have the ability to repair ourselves.”
If there was any controversy at all during the evening, it was one thing that neither federal legislation nor medical innovation can address: The number of sisters in the Catholic health care system is dwindling quickly. Currently about 30 percent of the hospitals in the nation are run by Catholic health care systems and were founded by women religious. Saint Joseph Hospital was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1880 and was Atlanta’s first hospital.
“The true challenge for the Catholic health care system is that the vast majority of the sisters are old,” said Chronos.
“When there is any (moral or ethical) question about a procedure or situation we turn to the sisters,” he said. “We don’t know how the laity is going to take over their roles and what is going to happen when there isn’t their strong guiding light.”
The talk was part of Holy Spirit’s 2009-2010 lecture series, open to the public, that seeks to continue the “Catholic intellectual tradition,” said Paul Voss, Holy Spirit Preparatory School provost. The next lecture on Thursday, Nov. 12, will be given by John Barger, Ph.D., founder of Sophia Institute Press.